Leadership – A Modern Skill for Promotions and Progress
Last Updated on 8th October 2020 by Freddie Chirgwin-Bell
As we have stated before, the modern workplace is a rapidly changing environment. With remote work, flexible work, flat hierarchy and more it’s a new environment where the idea of a rigid structure is falling out of favour.
As the workplace changes so do our attitudes. With this, there has been a rise in the idea of leadership skills over managerial skills. Typically when someone says the word “manager”, we conjure up images of that one manager we had in that one role who was truly awful.
With that in mind, more people are realising that being a good leader is the most beneficial path for them and others. It’s a lot better than just being the arbitrary “manager” or worse a “micro-manager”.
Managers Vs Leaders
Look at the image above. You’ve probably seen it before.
It’s certainly done the rounds on social media business blogs and other such sites.
It succinctly summarises what most people define “leadership” to be.
Because of this explosion of interest in recent years Leadership has become a buzzword. It’s used in corporate speak and has begun to become a cliché.
But that doesn’t lessen it’s need in the workplace. Having a good leader in the workplace will propel a team a department, even the whole business, forward.
Be The Leader
So now is your chance to show your worth and become a great leader.
There’s a myth that to be a great leader you need to be in a position of power or in charge of others. That’s not true.
Being a leader is a skillset. It’s something that can be taught and developed.
There are a whole multitude of books and articles on this topic, but this blog serves as a primer to ensure you have the core pillars and tenets of leadership in place before you explore further into this highly important skill.
The types of leadership
Leadership is not a single skill but more a collection of skills that come together. With this there have been several styles of leadership developed over the years. You have probably come across them in one form or another through your life.
Here are the ten most common leadership styles:
- Laissez-faire or hands-off
Each of these styles has its own pros and cons and varying levels of effectiveness. No single style is better than the others with all of them having their own pros and cons.
By understanding each of these leadership types, and the outcomes they’re designed to achieve, you can select the right leadership style for your current situation.
For most of us our leadership styles will change over time. People will cherry pick the best styles and techniques available to achieve the best result.
While you may have excelled in a role using one type of leadership, another position may require a different style or technique to excel, and that’s OK.
So deciding which one is the right one for you to adopt is going to be key to developing your skills and making progress.
The “Wrong” Type Of Leader
You know the type. These are the leaders and micro-managers who will make your life a living hell. This is often called autocratic leadership. The most commonly cultivated image of this is of the “drill sergeant”. Now there are times and scenarios where autocratic leadership is needed and even to be the best solution to an issue, however, in most scenarios this shouldn’t be the default.
Because of its prevalence and because of the idea of the drill sergeant in people’s heads, this style has fallen out of fashion with people, particularly in the workplace. The latest style of leadership that is “in fashion” most commonly takes the style of servant leadership.
It’s been highly popularised in recent years by the author Simon Sinek and his TEDx Talk “How Great Leaders Inspire Action”
This type of leadership is where you are a leader but also part of the team, you take charge of the project as a whole, but care about the individuals and their wellbeing.
Instead of telling people what to do, servant leaders ask them open-ended questions. Instead of sticking exactly to plans, they should adjust goals as new information emerges.
Leadership requires traits that extend beyond management duties. To be effective, a leader has to manage the resources at their disposal, but that is now seen as a minimum requirement in today’s world.
Leadership also involves communicating, inspiring and supervising—just to name three more of the primary skills a leader has to have to be successful.
Leaders: Born or Made?
While there are people who seem to be natural leaders, anyone can learn to become a leader by improving particular skills. History is full of famous examples. Those who, while having no previous leadership experience, stepped up to the plate in a crisis and became successes. They possessed the traits and qualities that helped them become great leaders. You could do worse than emulating their best traits.
Writing in Forbes magazine, Erika Andersen, the author of “Leading So People Will Follow,” says that, like most things, leadership follows a bell curve. So even with no natural leadership ability you can rapidly learn and become a great leader.
With building your leadership style, you need to find a balance between all the styles and techniques. You shouldn’t be practising just a single school of thought. You should find and use the best techniques styles and pieces that suit you and suit the situation you are in.
Leaders improve their effectiveness by developing the ambidexterity to move between techniques and styles to meet their needs.
This takes discipline and practice, but the main thing is this, leaders are made not born. You can teach yourself to be a great leader.
With teaching yourself to be a leader, it has to come from within yourself first. Having an acute sense of self-awareness is key to improving almost any habit. Understanding your preferences, limits and obstacles plays a crucial part in this process.
They say that growth only ever exists outside of your comfort zone. This is especially true if you are unused to being a leader. These situations will feel alien and you need to be comfortable with that feeling. Ask yourself: Where is your comfort zone?
As you try these techniques either you succeed or you learn. But during this point, you also need to adopt the mindset “Improvise, Adapt, Overcome,” which is the unofficial slogan among the United States Marines.
Once you know your shortcomings, your team’s shortcomings and whatever failures happen along the way, you can learn to be better next time around. You can accelerate this process with training and coaching but oftentimes people learn best by doing.
The last essential for any leader is the ability to listen and empathise. Having empathy and being able to listen go hand in hand. You’re going to want to listen and understand what is happening with the situation and with your team.
This will massively improve your communication skills but will also keep you informed so that you can make decisions on the fly that will affect the outcome of your plan.
How to Improve your Leadership
Lead by example
We’ve been saying that leadership is a learnt skill. But in that regard leadership needs to come from within. People recognise leadership when it affects others, but it’s only effective if you can lead yourself.
Leading by example is the foundation of so many styles of leadership. By setting a good example it automatically sets out the standard you expect of people.
For example, if your telling people to empathise more with the customers, you should be doing that already. If you’re telling them to make more calls, then you should be making more calls.
Helping your team by setting the standard yourself will be of the greatest benefit to you in the longterm. There’s a reason this phrase exists. Leaders need to show, not just tell.
A little humility goes a long way
Remember that image we showed you earlier in the blog? The boss or manager is just yelling orders whilst the leader is on the frontlines helping.
There is a follow up to it. When the team succeeds, the boss takes all of the credit, not acknowledging the hard work of their team. The leader, however, acknowledges the entire team, shares in their success and gives credit where credit is due.
Yes, we all like to pat ourselves on the back and stroke our egos, but a leader acknowledges those who have helped make it happen.
This not only makes you a good leader but also a good team player. Your team are more likely to want to work with you again and you are more likely to succeed.
Communication is essential. If you cannot get your point across clearly and succinctly then how are people going to know what you’re talking about and if they should trust you?
Communication in and of itself is a huge skill, one that will massively improve your work and your life.
Keep meetings productive
Obviously this one is a bit more work specific, but it does tie in beautifully with communication. You have to communicate your points clearly and concisely, so reducing unproductive meeting talk is key.
Meetings in the UK alone waste nearly 13 days a year because they’re ‘unproductive’. So avoid the waffling on and wasted time and keep things short and snappy by leading the meeting and making sure it stays on track.
Know your limits
You are not perfect. Sorry to break it to you. You have limits, you have flaws. When these limits are broken it can be detrimental.
By all means, work to improve your limitations but know that they are still there and make sure you’re not breaking yourself. Finding this balance will make you a better leader as you will not only appreciate your own limitations but that of your team.
Find a mentor
All the greatest athletes out there in the world share a common fact, they work with a coach. This coach or mentor will guide them navigating through common pitfalls to lead them through to great success.
Find yourself a mentor or coach to help improve your leadership knowledge, help you overcome obstacles and most importantly share the skills and traits of leadership.
Be emotionally aware
We’ve touched on empathy earlier, but it’s important so we will repeat it. YOU NEED TO EMPATHISE! You need to have empathy with everyone you come across. Get to understand who they are, their pros and cons, their celebrations and struggles and where their limits are.
By doing this you become a much more effective leader as you can tailor your strategy to get the most out of people without breaking them.
Never stop improving
To improve at any skill is to keep improving and especially keep learning from your mistakes. You’re bound to make some and that’s OK. So long as you don’t repeat those mistakes, that you learn and improve yourself and your skills from them you will become a better leader and a better colleague.
What’s listed above help make up the core elements of leadership. These are universal to all leadership styles and approaches. So if you’re looking to improve yourself, your work and your future prospects (promotion or new job) then start working with these pieces.